Landowners pick up pieces after Martin County brush fire

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT
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Crews were still at the Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area in Martin County on Friday, working to put out hot spots after 800 acres were burned in a Thursday brush fire, according to Florida Forest Service spokesman Miguel Nevarez.

Nevarez said 100% of the fire was contained by 10 p.m. Thursday but crews were back out early Friday morning to continue what he said is a mop-up operation.

He said that effort includes engines back on the ground, dumping water on hot spots, dozers continuing to plow the area, and crews putting in what are called fire lines, to make sure the fire can't start to spread again.

Nevarez added that dry conditions and wind are still causing concern for the fire to start to spread again.

"That's one of the reasons we came out here so early," Nevarez said. "Earlier in the day the winds aren't so bad, and as we get into afternoon hours, the winds start picking up, which is why we wanted to get ahead of the game."

Nevarez said the area is still locked down as crews continue to work.

"Obviously the No. 1 priority is everyone's safety: our guys, the public's and mine," Nevarez said. "As soon as we can, we will open this back up, but right now we're still working the fire lines. There are still spots that are igniting, so we don't want people getting in there in a situation where they could get hurt."

Many of the people unable to get into the Hungryland area are landowners, with tens of thousands of dollars worth of property and animals, which are all threatened by the brush fire.

Rocky Hoffman said he owns an acre of property in the area affected by the fire and waited outside the locked gates at the area's entrance for hours.

"I'm waiting to get in," Hoffman said as he killed time. "I figured I'd bring a couple fishing poles and the grandkids, wait around, see what happens, waiting, see if I can see somebody."

Hoffman said that waiting was torture.

"Here I am, day two, stressing," Hoffman said. "It's like pulling teeth. [I] can't wait for it to be over."

Across the street, Roland Logan's waiting period was over. He had just come from his property and showed WPTV pictures on his phone of where the fire burned the property that he poured $40,000 into.

"That's the light coming from my buildings burning down," Logan said. "It just starts coming quick. [It] burnt down both of my trailers, my storage trailers, everything gone. It's just devastating."

Logan said he's thankful he at least has an answer.

"It was a tough feeling last night," Logan said.

"Oh, yeah," Julian Hoffman, Rocky Hoffman's brother, agreed. "I never even slept last night.”

"Yeah, last night was a total loss," Logan added.

Julian Hoffman, who also owns property close to Logan's, said he still has know idea if his land is OK.

"I mean, we sit across the street, can't even drive in. It's probably all gone," Julian Hoffman said. "We know [Logan's] is all gone."

For others, like Jared Miles, who had his dogs stuck in his encampment, the threat of loss is even scarier.

"I can't believe this situation, you come out here for peace, and you never know what's going to happen," Miles said.

What helps all of them through the situation is faith.

"The Lord is my savior, I shall not want," Miles said.

Another help for those affected was the officers that cared, like FWC Officer Webb, who took Miles into the area to check on his dogs. To his relief, all three were OK.

The men said the other saving grace was the fact they still had each other, and their family members, which they said is all that matters.

"Absolutely, it's the best feeling in the world," Rocky Hoffman. "That's the only reason I have land out there. It's for them, not me."

Nevarez said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Crews expect to continue to be out in the Hungryland area all weekend long if need be.

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